Following my tradition of the last few years, I have transformed my modern, sleek basement bar into a Tiki wonderland for the entire month of February in celebration of Tiki Month. Each year, as I’ve learned more about Tiki, I’ve progressed in the decor from cheap, commercial paper products to more lush, realistic decorations, befitting a true Tiki lover.
Atop this post is a video featuring my big new item of decor for this year, my four and a half foot volcano, complete with lighting and smoke effects. The bottom of this post is a detailed description of its construction, along with hints and products you’ll need should you want to try to execute one of these beauties for yourself. I do want to point out that I also added to my collection perhaps the one piece of Tiki decor that virtually every real Tikiphile insists is essential for a real Tiki bar: The blowfish light fixture!
I purchased this spiffy little fishbowl at a Tiki event last Summer from a local artist named Yelena, along with smaller red and blue glass float lamps. I hung them from my track light rails, and wrapped the power and extension cords with jute rope to make it look more rustic. These lights don’t actually produce any usable light; just enough to be seen. They are damned hard to photograph well, but this over-lit picture will show how I mounted them for my temporary installation.
I also increased the amount of living foliage. This is cheap to do at this time of year, because Home Depot and Lowe’s run great sales about now on tropical indoor potted plants. Who wouldn’t want to be out shopping for orchids at five below? (Pro Tip: park real close to the store’s exit so the flowers don’t die before you reach your car.) With the lights down, there are numerous dark areas of the bar that are essentially too dark, so I added lots of those small, battery-operated votive candles in various holders to those areas to change them from block holes to mysterious corners. Behind the forest now hangs my neon canary in its bird cage. (It is my hope that this guy will next year sing the theme to the Enchanted Tiki Room…)
But the big thing is my nearly life-sized Mt. Pegu Pegu volcano!
I think this prop is awesome. It is very light, portable, and reasonably sturdy (though hardly tough). I’ll be able to store it in my crawl space when it isn’t Tiki Month.
In addition to showing the volcano in action (the effects are even better in real life), the video also has all that most people would actually be interested in about its construction, in picture form. But for those of you who might actually want to try making one yourself, read on. I’ve got high-res pictures, with explanations, a few product details, and an admonition or two.
I started with a piece of plywood, cut to match the custom table that fits in the curve behind the sectional in my bar. The front is an arc, and the back is straight. All long the curved edge, I stapled two-foot wide, five foot long strips of light-duty chicken wire.
One of the hardest parts of the job came next. I covered a wall with paper, both to protect the wall from scratches and to allow me to sketch out the approximate cross-section I wanted for the volcano. I folded the wire up and overlapped it to form the vague cone shape, but while the chicken wire is relatively stiff, it would not support its own weight. I added four thin pieces of wood that stabilized the setup.
I wanted several streams of “lava” to run down from the crater, so I cut out a template of black screen mesh for them and sewed it to the top and down the exposed face. The screen serves as a template, but remained in the finished volcano to obscure the chicken wire.
I originally intended to cover the frame in paper maché, but then found that you can buy what are essentially rolls of old-fashioned plaster cast fabric. They are all the same, and I chose a brand called E-Z Form Plaster Cloth Wrap. If you can, get it from Hobby Lobby, whose price for identical material is about half what Amazon or Blick’s want. I laid about 2-4 layers of the strips, of varying lengths and widths, criss-cross over the whole surface except where the mesh template is. The plaster cast dries in about half an hour, is quite strong, but crucially remains a little flexible. It does leave numerous pinholes that look like mesh when lit from behind, but several layers will cover most holes and provide added structural integrity. Painting will take care of most of the holes that remain. This is a much faster way of going than traditional paper maché, and is less messy. (Caveat: It is still messy.)
For texture to simulate cooling lava around the edges of crater and along the lava flows, I used a material called Claycrete. This is paper dust and dried paper maché glue in a bag. Mix it up and you can mold it easily. It is sticky enough to adhere easily to the plaster, and you can spread it thin or build it up as you like. It would not work to do the whole volcano skin, since it has a hard time sticking to the chicken wire by itself. But once this stuff dries, unlike the plaster strips, it is hard as a rock.
Once the shell dried, I used gesso then several applications of acrylics for the base, lava and surviving foliage near the bottom of the mountain. The resulting paint job is a little garish in bright light, but that is intentional so that the colors are still at least subtly visible in the dark light conditions I set up in the bar when in Tiki Mode. And I think it is pretty cool in bright light, too.
With the shell in place, I went for the special effects. For lighting, I used two simple uplight fixtures, and put Philips Hue floods in them. The Hue is a LED lighting system that changes to most any color and is controlled wirelessly by a variety of smartphone apps. After a lot of trial and error, I found that Hue Scintillator was the best for what I needed. Not only did it have a convincing animated “Magma” effect, but I could control other Hue bulbs in the room separately for other effects.
For the eruption, I used a simple 400 watt Halloween fog machine, like this one or this one. Make sure that the one you get uses a water-based fog liquid so you don’t ruin your furniture. I then used the hoses from a Tombstone Trio prop (removing the tombstones). This is a splitter that goes over the nozzle of the fog machine, and distributes the smoke through three smaller hoses. You could rig this yourself with tubing from Home Depot, too. The hoses go up and are attached to the chicken wire at the base of three of the lava flow fissures. With a wireless remote control attachment, I’m able to trigger the smoke effect whenever I want. About half the smoke goes straight out the fissures, the other half builds up in the main cone and floats out the open top of the crater.
I turned on the lights in a dark room to see where light was still leaking through the skin, and blocked those areas with aluminum foil. We then got some cheap, black, light blocking fabric and attached it to the back of the volcano with hot glue. This keeps both the smoke and the light from leaking out the back of the volcano and spoiling the effects.
Please note: You do not need a high-capacity fogger! I only run it for about four seconds at a time to get a good eruption effect. If you run it much longer, it looks absolutely great at first, but you end with your room looking like this…